Guest Post – I Have Food Allergies and So Does My Son

Father Son Cooking

 When I was two years old, my mom tried various tricks to get me to stop sucking my thumb. Once, she put peanut butter on my thumb before bed. She knew I didn’t like the smell; and we soon learned why. I came to them in the middle of the night with red eyes, a swollen face, and a noticeable wheeze. It was an allergy to peanuts, of course.

Things I don’t remember about growing up with a peanut allergy in the 1970s and 80s:

-Visiting an allergist or even a doctor, specifically to discuss the allergy
-Any nut-free signs at my school
-My mom ever phoning the parents of a friend to ask what they were serving at a birthday party
-Hearing the word Epipen let alone knowing what an autoinjector was
-Anyone asking on my behalf whether any product contained nuts

I figured out the basics of managing my allergy on my own; but I was still just a kid. When I was 8, I went to a birthday party and bit into a cookie without a moment’s hesitation. After one swallow, I knew it contained peanut butter and my time at the party was done. Another incident involved a dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my parents and another couple. Again, it was one taste. This time it was an egg roll with a peanut that ruined my night. Not knowing any better, my parents took me out to the car to lie down and “sleep it off” while they went back inside and finished their meal!

This is not meant to be an indictment of my parents. It was a different era. I can’t recall even knowing any other kids with a food allergy of any kind. When it would come up at a friend’s house, people would ask me all sorts of questions and sit in rapt attention.

Having dealt with this allergy all my life, and taken control over it as an adult, I was well-equipped to handle it when we learned our young son had multiple food allergies (including peanuts). My wife took the news hard; but, having managed an allergy my whole life, I knew that this was something that we could handle. I knew that, when comparing awareness and the ability to manage food allergies now to when I was a kid, this was something that we could make sure didn’t get the best of our son or us.

My son and I share in the experience of having a food allergy. While our allergies (and our reactions) are different, we can learn from each other. He’s growing up in an allergy-aware environment and I feel confident that he won’t need to rely on just dumb luck when it comes to managing his food allergies. And, in helping him learn to manage his allergies, I’ve gained more knowledge about managing mine, too.

Roger King

Managing Allergies During the Holidays

Holiday Meal

I always sigh a little when the holiday season rolls around (and not just because of gift shopping). It happens during any holiday, really, due to food and allergies. Sometimes I just wish for even one day without allergies! But, alas, my allergies are around. So I manage as best I can. There are three areas that I find to be the most challenging when it comes to food allergies around any holiday season: baking and cooking, family and friend gatherings, and inconveniencing others. I have a few favorite tips and I’ll share those at the end of my blog post!

Baking and Cooking

 

Luckily for me, I have grown up cooking with my parents and both sets of grandparents. Holiday baking has always been a fun thing for me; but it gets trickier each time I have encountered a new allergen (I’m now allergic to nuts, soy and dairy and I spent five years flipping between being vegetarian and vegan). During my university years, and ever since, I have been leading a more health-conscious life. Finding recipes that can accommodate my allergens, healthy lifestyle, and those that are delicious for my family, then, is a massive win!

Family and Friend Gatherings

 

My family keeps pretty similar annual traditions for holiday dinners and events; and being around the same people all the time allows them to be familiar with my allergies. Most of the time everyone is conscientious about what is being put in the food as well as being on the lookout for cross-contamination. And they are okay with me always asking what is inside certain dishes. Despite this, I often do not feel 100% safe. So I make sure ahead of time that I know there is a dish we can bring or I talk to family members that are cooking before to remind them about my allergies, cross-contamination, and find out what ingredients they are cooking with. It is easy for people to mistakenly forget an allergen. Being preventative helps keep me safe and creates a less-stressful environment for everyone when I am present at the gathering. After all, a big part of the holidays involves having fun with family and friends and eating delicious food!

Inconvenience to Others

 

No matter how many times my family and friends tell me that I am not an inconvenience, (and that the need for me to have to request certain things for dinners or choose to not have baking or beverages that are prepared during the holiday season is totally okay) I still feel that I am an inconvenience. Sometimes I will avoid eating all together if I don’t feel safe with my allergies. Or I just leave the event early (I did that recently at my friend’s dinner and it wasn’t that fun.). At times, I find it frustrating that my allergies create extra work for other people. I find it normal to use different ingredients, cook from scratch all the time, and know what I have in everything. So I don’t find it to be an issue. But I do recognize that these aren’t habits for most people.

 

As a promised bonus, my favorite tips to navigate through the holiday season with ease include:

 

  • Find a couple food blogs or recipe books that you love! Share these with family and friends. One of my favorites is ohsheglows.com

 

  • If you have “abnormal ingredients” you cook with, i.e. butter, egg or flour substitutes, try to introduce these to people you will be with through recipes before the holiday season. Nothing should come as a surprise to them if you take this approach. They may even take on using these substitutes themselves (my best friend now swears by vegan cheese instead of dairy based).
  • Remind people about your allergies and the severity of cross-contamination.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t eat it!
  • Try to always have a dish that you know you can comfortably eat.

 

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

 

Joanna C.

Buffets and Allergies: Staying Safe

vacation

If you’ve ever been to Vegas, or any other resort destination for that matter, you know that the buffet is an absolute staple. Usually these buffets tend to be “all you can eat” and very reasonably priced (which is always a bonus). Even though buffets can be very alluring, having allergies can limit your options. One of the biggest problems with all-you can-eat buffets is the fact that the chance of cross-contamination, whether it be in the preparation of the food or the utensils that handle the food, is very high. Through my own personal experiences travelling, I’ve compiled a few tips that you should keep in mind before heading-out to a buffet.

Step 1: Do your homework.

Before visiting a buffet, research the actual company online. See if they have an allergy policy in place – some restaurants are more sensitive to allergies than others in that they actually have policies to protect allergic customers. Regardless of whether or not you find anything online, the next step would be to call the actual restaurant (at the specific location you are planning to go to). When you call, make sure you speak to the general manager. General managers usually have a better understanding when it comes to the ramifications of your severe allergy; and they are usually more knowledgeable about the food products/ingredients used in the buffet preparation. Make sure you tell them about the risk of cross contamination and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment.

Step 2: Make a plan.

Depending on what answer the manager gives you, you have to use your judgement to determine whether or not you feel comfortable dining at the establishment. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t bother going. You will feel anxious the entire time and may end-up regretting your decision. If you do decide to dine-out, scout-out the buffet right when you get there. Buffets are usually segmented into different “sections” (ie. Desserts, Salads, Soups, etc…). By process of elimination, make a mental note about which segments to stay away from, depending upon your allergen (ie. Nuts, peanuts, etc…). In my case, I am severely allergic to tree nuts. So I usually stay away from the salad bar and the desert stand. Nuts are regularly used in salads and desserts.

Step 3: Choosing what to eat.

Once you have committed to areas of the buffet that you deem to be safe, start selecting your food. Even though you have physically marked these areas out as “safe zones” in your mind, always choose foods that you feel comfortable eating. Look-out for utensils that are used in more than one area, foods that people grab-at without utensils, or anything else that may pose a risk for cross-contamination.

The bottom line is that you have to feel safe wherever you eat – always use your judgement before deciding which restaurant to go to. I hope you will find these tips helpful when planning for your next buffet outing. These are all tips to help mitigate the allergy risks encountered at buffets. Use your best judgement when deciding to eat at a buffet. If it’s out of your comfort zone, simply don’t risk it and find another restaurant.

Saverio M.

Guest Post: Taylor – My Experience with Allergies at University

More files of this series and model on port. Made with professional make-up.

Hi, my name is Taylor and I am a second year student studying Commerce at Queen’s University. I have anaphylactic allergies to peanuts, nuts, and fish. I am lucky that I have never suffered an anaphylactic reaction or been injected with my auto-injector.

In September 2013, I entered my first year of university. It was the first time that I was completely independent. I was somewhat apprehensive to attend university; I knew few people in my program and at Queen’s in general. Not only did I have social and academic concerns, but I was also anxious about my food situation at school.

On move-in day, I arranged to meet with the cafeteria manager. He took us through a cafeteria and provided detailed explanations of the food preparation. At each station, there were signs listing ingredients and common allergens. I was told that, if I did not see peanuts, nuts, or fish written on those food signs, it would be safe for me to eat. He guaranteed that there would be no issues with cross-contamination. I was informed that the cafeteria chefs were trained and acutely aware of the severity of food allergies. I was also encouraged to ask staff members if I was concerned.

Following this meeting, I felt more at ease with the food situation. Throughout the year, I looked at the cafeteria websites to determine which cafeteria would be safest for me to eat at. I would also check the food signs prior to eating to ensure that my food had not come into contact with my allergens. Additionally, the cafeteria staff was able to inform me about food preparation to determine if cross-contamination was a concern.

On the weekends, I enjoyed venturing to downtown Kingston for dinner with friends. Due to my allergies, I usually ate at Italian, American or Greek restaurants. I would call in advance to ensure that the kitchen could accommodate my allergies. This would make me feel more comfortable and in control. I could often get a good sense of whether or not the restaurant took allergies seriously. There was one occasion in which I was invited to a party at a sushi restaurant. My call to the restaurant confirmed that there would likely be cross contamination with fish. I ate before I left and I simply ordered a drink and an unexciting bowl of plain rice. Although my food selection wasn’t great, I was safe and didn’t miss out on the social aspect of the evening. Being social is important. It is also important to plan ahead so that you are not tempted to eat something that is questionable.

As I enter my second year of university, I can confidently say that I have gained a new sense of confidence when it comes to my food allergies. I will continue to plan in advance and always seek clarification when I am unsure of cross-contamination.

Taylor

Road-trips and Allergies

wheat field(large)

Allergies and road-trips = the potential of being far away from a hospital and immediate medical attention for equally possible long durations of time. This definitely makes the list of “things that make me uncomfortable and slightly stressed while away from home.” I’ve had a decent amount of experience to live through this stressor—mostly thanks to my parents. We have travelled in our tent trailer since I was about 5 years old as we road-tripped all across Canada.

I’ve had to manage anaphylaxis since I was 16 months old (okay, my parents did for the first while…); and my parents brought me up to always be conscious about what I was ingesting, cross-contamination, and about the management of possible allergic reactions. (To this day, I cannot imagine the stress involved in leaving me as a 6 year old at kindergarten and to my own devices!) My road-trip experience growing up looked mostly like this. For 2-3 weeks each summer, I would travel via mini-van and tent-trailer with my brother, parents, and dog to somewhere in Canada. We travelled to the east coast, west coast, prairies, and northern territories… suffice it to say that I learned quite a bit about Canadian culture. I also learned a few staples about road-tripping with allergies. Here they are (in no specific order):

  • Meal plan, meal plan, meal plan! 

It is so important to have your own food that is safe for you to eat. One of the reasons that my family went camping so much is because we could easily manage what we were eating and know it was safe for me. Stock up on all ingredients you will need to have and take them with you.

  • Auto-injector, plus a spare!!!

I cannot stress this enough. I always carry two auto-injectors with me. On a recent trip I took, when I was unsure about medical care, I took more than two. You can never be too careful. As for any other medications you may possibly need—bring them. Check that all of your prescriptions are up to date and you have extras if you think you may need them.

  • Extra safe snacks:

It’s easy for friends to stop off and pick up a snack here or there; but it is not always that easy for those of us with allergies or food sensitivities. Carrying your extra snacks or treats with you can make it so much easier, and more fun, to be able to share similar experiences and not feel left out. As much as possible, I want to limit feeling like a burden to my friends and family because my allergies limit where and what I can eat. So I always make sure I have some kind of snack with me. They want to stop off at a cafe? Cool! I’ll grab a tea and have a snack that I brought. They can enjoy their latte and cake or whatever they get. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

  • Can you bring food? 

I was recently at a music festival where they had a policy that no food was allowed to be brought in unless you had allergies. Check to see if this is a factor for any of the stops you are making on your road trip! Also, make sure you see if you need any kinds of letters from your doctor about needing auto-injectors or any other drugs that are to be kept with you. I have been hassled about this before. Leave my auto-injectors with the security staff at the front gates? Yea, right…not happening!

  • Map medical facilities:

This is something I have been more vigilant about doing since I have been older as opposed to when I was younger. I look at where I am staying and figure out where nearby medical facilities are. It puts me at ease to know what I have accessible to me and how readily available I am to medical care should an emergency happen. If I am not staying in a city (i.e. camping), I know what the easiest route back to where medical care is and, if I am remote, I know what my options are in terms of who to contact for help (i.e. park rangers) if we need immediate assistance.

  • Tell your friends about your allergies:

This is another point I cannot stress enough! It is so important to communicate your allergies/food sensitivities to the people you are travelling with. I find it to be a less than fun feeling when we’re in the car and I see that chocolate bar or bag of trail mix that has peanuts in it (one of my allergens); and I think “oh no, I can’t be near that… It is never fun to feel like the ‘buzz kill’.  Tell your friends/travel companions beforehand to avoid this situation!

  • Medic Alert: 

I do not remember a time in my life when I haven’t had my MedicAlert bracelet (actually, I only remember the times when I do not have it because I lost it!). A MedicAlert is something that is so important to have. Even in the recent first aid course I did, it is part of the training to look to see if there is medical identification jewellery on the person. This jewellery can speak for you when you can’t when, for example, you have passed out or are in a panic and forgot to say certain things. Specifically, my MedicAlert advises that I am allergic to penicillin. This is important if I have an allergic reaction. The medical responders will easily be able to identify that I cannot have that drug. For the small cost that it is, having a MedicAlert is like a safety blanket that is always with you; and there are a lot of styles it comes in now. Being ‘fashion forward’ isn’t an issue anymore!

Those are my top suggestions for embarking on a road trip when you have allergies. There are definitely multiple other considerations that should be made before going on a trip; don’t limit yourself. Do you have any tips that have been useful? Share in the comments!

Happy travels!

Joanna C.

Managing My Allergies: Then and Now

Live_Main_Travel

When I take time to look back at how I’ve learned to manage my allergies, it’s amazing to see the differences from when I was growing up versus now as a young adult.  Obviously, when I was very young, it was my parents’ responsibility to ensure that I stayed safe avoiding allergens. It’s easy to see now that they were training me from a young age to eventually take on this responsibility.  This started out with ensuring that I was able to identify what foods I couldn’t eat and only eating foods I knew were safe.  Going to school, my parents really emphasized the importance of not eating anything that was from someone else and always carrying my auto-injector with me (and knowing how to use it). When I was starting school, my parents took on the responsibility of contacting my school and my teachers to ensure that they were also knowledgeable about my allergies along with informing them of where my auto-injector was kept. They would also make sure a plan was in place for storing my medicine in the school’s office and they established a protocol for field trips. My parents also made sure my medications were always up to date and that I frequently saw my allergist. I have now been able to assume these responsibilities myself—but this change was not something that suddenly took place; it came gradually over time.

As I got older, and progressed through elementary school and then high school, I was able to become more and more active managing my allergies. My first big shift in responsibility between my parents and I came when I entered high school.  Having gone to the same school from kindergarten to grade 8, starting high school meant it was now my turn to meet with my new teachers and principal to introduce myself and discuss how we would ensure I was safe at school with my allergies.  While I took on a bigger role in this, I have to admit my mom was still present and was the one who double (and triple) checked that I had taken all the appropriate measures to ensure that I would be safe entering high school. It would not be until I started university that I truly began to feel fully independent when it came to managing my allergies.

When I moved out, all of a sudden there was no one asking if I had my medicine with me when I left to go out. Initially, everyone I met was a stranger who didn’t know about my allergies; and it was my responsibility to educate them. I never fully realized all the things my parents did to help manage my allergies until they were longer there to help with this. That being said, as I mentioned earlier on, I felt like my parents were training me to manage my allergies from a young age. And this definitely has paid off.  Going to university and living on my own have marked two of the biggest changes in terms of having total responsibility when it comes to managing my allergies; but I have never felt unprepared.  Living on my own, I have lived a far distance from my parents and old friends who are already very knowledgeable about my allergies.  I’ve also had various living arrangements that involved living with roommates who weren’t used to having a roommate with allergies.  Along with this I’ve also travelled independently to other countries where I’ve had to manage staying safe with my allergies in a foreign nation.  These are all new experiences I never encountered as a child.  That being said, with every new experience I’ve had as a young adult, I’ve felt competent to ensure that I stayed safe by using the common sense my parents taught me about managing my allergies.  I’ll admit that my parents still like to check in now and again to make sure I am staying safe with my allergies; but what is different now is that I am the one with the responsibility to manage this.  One of the positive things that has not changed in this situation, though, is trust. When I was young, I trusted my parents to make sure I was safe with my allergies and, now having watched me grow up with allergies, my parents can trust me to do the same.

Caitlyn P.

Common Misconceptions about Food Allergies

Wooden Man in Labyrinth with Map Having lived with multiple allergies my whole life, I’ve heard a lot of misinformation. Some people think that peanuts are nuts, but almonds aren’t. Others believe that allergies can be cured by hypnotism or that food allergies are really just a myth invented by “Big Pharma” to make money. Out of all the misconceptions I’ve heard, there are a few tenacious ones that keep popping up:

1 – Immunotherapy is a cure for food allergies

Immunotherapy is a process that desensitizes a person to their allergen by giving them small amounts of it over a long period of time. It’s done in a hospital under very controlled circumstances because, as you would expect, feeding someone their allergen can be dangerous. The goal of immunotherapy isn’t to “cure” someone of their allergy but, rather, to allow them to tolerate a larger amount than they originally could. It’s still a pretty experimental process and it isn’t offered everywhere. It also isn’t suitable for everyone; and the results haven’t been shown to be permanent.

2 – You have allergies because your mom was overprotective of you as a child

There are several theories regarding the cause of allergies, one of which is the “hygiene hypothesis.” For some reason, this theory is particularly popular in the comments section on YouTube and news sites; and it is often presented as fact. It pretty much says that, if you’re not exposed to enough germs as a kid, your immune system will get messed up and you’ll end up with allergies. This is just one of many theories, because no one knows the real cause of food allergies. Other possible reasons include the presence of GMOs in our foods, changes in our diets, genetics, the environment, and many more. At the end of the day, we don’t know why more and more people are developing allergies.

3 – If you’re only “a little” allergic to something, you don’t need an auto-injector

I’ve watched friends eat things they were allergic to because their only symptoms were a little bit of an itchy throat. These friends also never carried auto-injectors with them because they had never had a severe allergic reaction before. It’s important to point out that, even if you usually have a small reaction to something, it could one day turn into a big reaction. If that happens, an auto-injector could be life saving.

This was just a short list of some false statements I’ve heard regarding food allergies. It’s important to try and educate people, when they have gaps in their knowledge, about food allergies because public awareness is an important part of keeping people with allergies safe. For reliable information, Anaphylaxis Canada is a great resource.

Talia

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